Meet Michael Mwenso

Michael Mwenso three images in different poses 

Raised by Music

Michael Mwenso was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone but spent his teenage years hanging out at the legendary jazz club Ronnie Scott’s in London where he was exposed to musicians such as Benny Carter, Elvin Jones, Ray Brown and Billy Higgins.

In his youth, Mwenso started honing his talents as a trombonist, singer and performer playing in jump bands, reggae and Afrobeat horn sections and at hard-bop sessions. Mwenso’s talent as a performer caught the attention of many, which subsequently led him to meet James Brown who allotted space for him to sing and dance at his London shows.

A Cardinal at the Jazz Vatican

In 2012, friend and jazz musician Wynton Marsalis brought Mwenso to New York City to serve as curator and programming associate at Jazz at Lincoln Center where he also booked nightly sets at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. Over the next few years, Mwenso booked and performed with the likes of Cécile McLorin Salvant, Jon Batiste, Aaron Diehl, Sullivan Fortner and Jamison Ross.

Birth of The Shakes

Through these performances, Mwenso began to collaborate with a wide variety of Juilliard-trained musicians that soon became known as The Shakes. This unique group of global artists presents music that merges entertainment and artistry with a formidable timeline of jazz and blues through African and Afro-American music.

Hailing from many corners of the world including Sierra Leone, London, South Africa, Greenwich Village, Madagascar, France, Jamaica and Hawaii each brought the inspiration from their unique backgrounds while cohesively collaborating in a spontaneously communal and improvisational environment.

In 2019, Mwenso and his band The Shakes released their debut album, Emergence [The Process of Coming into Being], to widespread critical praise.

Driven by Mwenso’s deep ancestral understanding of the African-American music tradition, Emergence came together through many late nights in the band’s loft in Harlem exploring music outside of the traditional classroom using free-form musical expression.

Artist, Activist, Ambassador

Now, Mwenso has taken his leadership to the next level as a cultural ambassador and artist in residence at the University at Buffalo’s Arts Collaboratory. His role at the University is to not only teach numerous classes but help grow the arts scene within their local community while creating more programming focusing on Black music and artists. Mwenso is also partnering with Penn State University, Miami University and Sonoma State University as a guest professor of Black music and cultural guide.

Michael's Projects with Miami

Michael Mwenso's Songs of Black Hope and Resistance

November 2020: In this four-part, on-line series, curator and host Michael Mwenso leads us on a journey of meaningful songs from the Black roots expression that speak to the ultimate human expression.

Harlem 100

November 2, 2019: Mwenso and the Shakes appeared on the Hall Auditorium stage with their salute to the legends of the Harlem Renaissance 100 years after it began.